Minister of Health and Wellness, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic, inspects containers with mosquito larvae at different stages while touring the Insectary-in-a-Box. He is seen here with ZAP’s Regional Representative, Carolina Torres Gutierrez. (GP)

Barbados has received much needed arsenal in its fight against mosquito borne illnesses.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Zika AIRS (Africa Indoor Residual Spraying) Project (ZAP), presented Minister of Health, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic, with a fully equipped Insectary-in-a-Box – a 60-foot container entomological laboratory – this morning at Graeme Hall, Christ Church.

An insectary is a functioning laboratory, which rears, cultivates, analyses and performs research on the local mosquito population from larvae to adults.  

Lt. Col. Bostic told those gathered at the handing over ceremony that it would help to provide “a more evidence-based approach to mosquito control in Barbados”.

“Given the need to continue to strengthen the vector control programme when assistance was offered by the ZAP Project, Barbados seized the opportunity.  Under this programme, our capacity will be enhanced in the areas of identification of mosquito species; understanding mosquito breeding habits; testing of biological mosquito controls; and developing insecticide resistance protocols.

“Mosquito control is important to us in the Ministry of Health & Wellness, and we are committed to the use of the Integrated Vector Management Framework, which requires evidence for rational decision making, and favours optimal use of resources for sustainable action,” he stated.

The Health Minister said while the aim of the ZAP programme was to control the mosquitoes responsible for transmitting the Zika virus, the added benefit for Barbados would be the control of other mosquito borne illnesses, such as dengue and chikungunya, since all three diseases were spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

He pointed out that there were over 2,000 notified cases of Chikungunya in Barbados back in 2014 – 139 of which were laboratory confirmed.  Two persons died as a result of the disease.  This was followed by the first confirmed cases of the Zika virus in 2015.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic examines a petri dish with mosquitoes under a microscope while touring the insectary. (GP)

By 2016, there were over 800 suspected and confirmed cases of Zika locally, which were accompanied by complications such as Zika Congenital Syndrome and Guillain-Barré Syndrome.  Additionally, there were 31 pregnant women who tested positive for the Zika virus, he disclosed.

“Efforts of the Vector Control Unit of the Ministry of Health & Wellness, assisted by Environmental Health Officers of the various polyclinics in the inspection of premises, community engagement and periodic fogging with insecticides since the 1950s, have had variable successes. Dengue fever outbreaks have still occurred every two to five years.  The last recognized outbreak year was 2016,” the Health Minister said.

He added that in recent times some private sector companies had entered the market offering mosquito control spraying with newer insecticides.

“However, this action can rapidly provoke insecticide resistance, and therefore requires constant monitoring.  In this regard, we work closely with the reference laboratory at the Caribbean Public Health Agency, the only facility in the region where insecticide resistance testing is currently available,” Lt. Col. Bostic explained.

He noted that one of the key outcomes of the insectary would be opportunities for training and career development, since any training would be certified through collaboration with the Barbados Community College and the University of the West Indies.

USAID’s Senior Zika Advisor, Eric Bavanick, said the insectary was essential for cost-effective mosquito monitoring and insecticide resistance testing.

“The aim is to develop a profile of insecticides that are effective against the Zika carrying mosquito in its various stages of development.  These capabilities will foster a resilient public health system and promote early notification of mosquito-borne illness outbreaks,” he stated.

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